The Pullman House Off The Coast Of Clayton, N.Y.
Situated just off Grenell Island on its own isle, later to be referred to in some publications as little Pullman Island, the Pullman House was yet another of the Gilded Age hotel/resorts built in the Thousand Islands. Undoubtedly named after George Pullman, is not clear as to what the motivation was in doing so as it was constructed by Joseph I. Sayles of Rome. The nomenclature of the island (it’s actually a small island off of Grenell Island which it is often referred to as being on) and hotel has resulted in some confusion, particular with the press as noted later in this article, which subsequently confused the public as well.
Joining the likes of the Frontenac Hotel, the two were situated between Clayton and the Thousand Island Park on Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River while other nearby hotels included the Manatauk Hotel in Clayton completed c. 1901 and the Columbian in Thousand Island Park itself (which replaced the Thousand Island Park Hotel which burned in 1890.)
For sake of clarification, George Pullman had previously helped put the Thousand Islands in the national spotlight when he invited President Ulysses S. Grant to his own island, formerly known as Sweet Island where Castle Rest was later built, while Grant was campaigning for his second term for president in 1872.
According to the village of Alexandria Bay’s website –
Shortly after the Civil War, the popularity of the Islands increased with the improved transportation system. Wealthy sportsmen and gentlemen from leading US cities inquired into purchasing islands from private use. The social era of Alexandria Bay began when George Pullman invited General Grant (then running for President of the United States (sic; then running for second term as president)) to visit his Island home. The press traveling with General Grant wrote articles in the leading US city papers that sparked an interest that resulted in the explosion of recreation in the Alexandria Bay area.
In 1873, the Thousand Island House was constructed in nearby Alexandria Bay while its neighboring Crossmon House underwent a major expansion in anticipation of increased business. The Round Island House, later remodeled as the Frontenac and subsequently again as the “New” Frontenac, was constructed just a few years later in 1878 as more and more visitors were making their way to discover the region’s offerings.
In 1888, Joseph Sayles purchased the little island and its small Grenell House hotel and began making improvements by grading, leveling and beautifying it. Aside from the Grenell House, another, smaller building was moved to the back of the island and in 1889 ground broke for new hotel. Once the Pullman House was completed, the former Grenell House was razed. Opening the following year in 1890, the Pullman House drew hundreds of visitors from across the state and country to enjoy the 54-rooms situated on its second and third floors.
The local On the St. Lawrence and Clayton Independent wrote upon the Pullman House’s opening–
On Grenell island, one of the most beautiful spots on the St. Lawrence river, has been erected during the past winter a magnificent hotel, which is in pleasing contrast that the old hotel which has stood there for mean years. In latter part of last season, J. I. Sayles, of Rome, purchased of S. B. Grenell this island property, and now in place of the little old Grenell house, there stands a handsome three-story building, 85 x 50 feet, with large verandas on two stories, which will be known as the Pullman House. It is a very imposing looking structure from the river and can be seen from miles around.
Like many of the hotels built in the era, the Pullman House, despite being surrounded by water, was destroyed by fire – lasting a mere 14 years. The following article was printed in the Watertown Re-union on September 14, 1904 and is a good example of the confusion brought upon by the name and location as many of the facts are wrong.
Pullman Hotel Destroyed By Fire
Well Known Island Hostelry Now A Mound Of Ashes.
Thousand Island Park, Sept. 13 — The Pullman hotel on Pullman Island was totally destroyed by fire early Saturday morning, entailing a loss of $16,000, with insurance of about $10,000. The guests, numbering only three, and the hotel employees escaped safely from the hotel and were forced by the heat to leave the island in rowboats. The fire was discovered in the garret about 2 a.m. and in less than a half hour the entire hotel was in ashes. Godfrew LaRue, a boarder at the hotel, lost $75.
The Pullman hotel was built 32 years ago (sic; incorrect) and named after the late George M. Pullman (uncertain, but assuming so), the palace car king. Mr. Pullman entertained at this hotel at the dedication Gen. U.S. Grant, ex-President Cleveland and numerous other notables (sic; Grant died in 1885. Pullman entertained many, including these, at his own summer homes.)
The hotel was owned by the late J. I. Sayles of Rome, and was conducted by Cape. E. G. Robins, one of the executors of Sayles estate.
The hotel has not been a paying investment for the past few years.
One can only wonder if the naming of Pullman House and the confusion that followed was a sly marketing move by Sayles meant to capitalize on the Pullman name and his island’s many notable visitors. The Watertown Re-Union confusion in its postmortem article on the hotel’s demise and one can only assume such misunderstandings may have already existed.